Jacqueline Lewis donated $1 million for the establishment of the HBCU National Center , which will provide affordable housing and meeting spaces for students, faculty and alumni of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). (Courtesy Photo)

By Nadine Matthews
Special to the AFRO

In her recent book, “Say It Louder: Black Voters, White Narratives, and Saving Our Democracy,” host of MSNBC’s  “Cross Connection” Tiffany Cross, discussed the importance of internships in the media industry, saying they offer, “The valuable experience of learning how to navigate a newsroom.”

Cross also talked about how difficult it is for many Black and Brown Americans to have real access to those internships even if they manage to get accepted for one. “Finding an affordable place to live in these major cities can be tougher than landing the internship itself… when you consider an apartment, professional clothing, transportation, and food. Not too many Black and brown students can afford to work and get paid only in experience and not actual compensation.”

Fortunately, a number of individuals and non-profits are making the effort to remediate that structural inequity. One such individual is Jacqueline Lewis, a longtime philanthropist who has used her non-profit to offset the costs of experiential education. In 1992, along with her late husband, renowned journalist Robert D.G. Lewis, she founded Washington Intern and Student Housing (WISH) which provides safe and affordable housing for students from around the world, who are interning in Washington, D.C. Over 25,000 students have been housed there so far.

Now with more attention being paid to the fact that Black and Brown students remain relatively underserved, Lewis has donated $1 million dollars for the establishment of the HBCU National Center for students, faculty, and alumni of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). There are four HBCUs located in Maryland and two in Washington, D.C.. 

“Mine has always been a mission of inclusion,” said Lewis in an interview with the {AFRO}. “My goal,” she stated, “is to build diversity by preparing Black students for the next generation leadership in all professions.”

The center is located on Connecticut Avenue in downtown Washington, D.C. and the foundation will pay semester housing costs for 175 students to intern in Washington, D.C., beginning Fall, 2021.  A student life professional will create programs and oversee student safety and  conduct. Lewis explains the building was originally built by Boston University as housing for their students living in Washington, D.C.”In addition to living spaces,” she explains, “it also includes  meeting space for classes, conferences, panels, presentations, press conferences and other activities, spaces.”

Lewis also sees the center as a conduit for  building crucially important opportunities for networking. “There will be students from all over the world living in this building. That is the other thing we needed; the networking and socialization with people from all over the world sharing ideas.”

In addition to the retired teacher’s own lifelong commitment to helping students doing internships and other types of experiential education, Lewis said she was also inspired by the work of Reginald Broddie and Crispin Etherington. The two run the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Scholarship Trust, which provides mentorship and financial assistance to low-income students. 

Lewis was also inspired by the gifts of Mckenzie Scott, ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Scott made donations in the hundreds of millions to HBCUs, giving $20 million alone to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES).  “What she gave to the HBCUs was transformational. She confirmed that the mission of HBCUs is what we have to keep going,” Lewis said.